Month: June 2020

James Taylor / Dad Loves His Work – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

This Hot Stamper original Columbia is THE KING, the Best Sounding Copy we have ever played — the sound was OUT OF THIS WORLD! In fact, side two went so far beyond what we’ve come to expect from this album that we had to award it the rare Four Plus (A++++) grade.

The soundstage and depth on our Hot Stamper copies is HUGE — this is without a doubt the most spacious recording by James Taylor we’ve ever heard. If you want your speakers to disappear, replaced by a huge studio full of musicians playing their hearts out, this is the album that can do it. (more…)

Making Mistakes and Other Advice from Better Records

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Wise men and women throughout the ages have commented on the value of making mistakes. Here is one of our favorite quotes on the subject.

“Making a different mistake every day is not only acceptable, it is the definition of progress.”
~Robert Brault

Record shootouts are the fastest and easiest way to hone your listening skills. We believe that the only way to really learn about records is to gather a big pile of them together, clean them up and listen to them one by one as critically as you can.
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Earth, Wind & Fire – I Am

More Earth, Wind and Fire

More Recordings by George Massenburg

  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this excellent EWF title from 1979; exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • If you like Pop Music, Soul Music, or EWF’s groundbreaking hybridization of the two, you have to love these classic albums from the ’70s
  • “Maurice White makes music whose quality is as high as its market appeal, as accessible as it is innovative…” – Rolling Stone

Every track Maurice White ever produced was a testimony to his deep understanding and prodigious talent for crafting the perfect pop song, complete with arrangements for nine pieces as tight as the matching sequined suits the band wore. Fortunately for us analog types, EWF was an audiophile-oriented band, producing some of the best sounding ’70s multi-track recordings of the day. After the Love Is Gone is killer on this copy.

There may in fact be a few too many tracks, causing the typical copy of the record to get strident and congested in the loud vocal passages, contributing to the somewhat hot upper mids in most of the mixes (which may be the fault of George Massenburg, whose engineering on even his best days tends to be somewhat sparkly).

Even though we are not in the business of selling typical copies — what we offer are very good ones at the very least, and superb ones at the upper ends of our price range — we should be clear that these problems can be heard to some degree on even the best copies we auditioned.

What we are looking for is sound that is as rich, smooth, sweet, and tonally correct as we can find. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it really can’t be anyway. It just has to be the best we can find after going through a big pile of copies, because if we can’t find it I don’t know how anyone else could. It’s the same process no matter who does it, and who else does it but us? (more…)

Jefferson Airplane / After Bathing At Baxter’s – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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Reviews and Commentaries for The Jefferson Airplane

This RCA pressing was a BIG step up from most copies we played. Most copies we’ve played are too lean down low, which takes a lot of the power out of this crazy psychedelic music. This one gives you more weight down low and good energy, which helps these songs sound the way The Airplane must have intended.

I’m not familiar with the Sundazed pressing, but I would be shocked if it was even in the ballpark with a Super Hot Stamper copy like this one. Is anyone seriously buying their records for sound quality these days? (more…)

Listening in Depth to Heart Like a Wheel

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

You’re No Good

Right from the git-go, if the opening drum and bass intro on this one doesn’t get your foot tapping, something definitely ain’t right. Check to make sure your stereo is working up to par with a record you know well. If it is, your copy of HLAW belongs on the reject pile along with the other 90% of the copies ever pressed.

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Amazing acoustic guitars! Lots of tubey magic for a mid-’70s pop album. And just listen to the breathy quality of Linda’s voice. She’s swimming in echo, but it’s a good kind of echo. Being able to hear so much of it tells you that your pressing is one of the few with tremendous transparency and high resolution.

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Seals & Crofts / Year of Sunday – A Masterpiece and Underrated Classic

 

The best album by this duo – their strongest songwriting and arrangements. Nearly White Hot on side one, with vocals that are full-bodied, rich and solid.

A forgotten Classic from 1971, the album holds up very well forty plus years on.

Their commercial breakthrough would come with their next album, Year of Sunday, helped out by scores of session cats, but I much prefer the less commercial — although it’s far from uncommercial — sound of Year of Sunday. I am apparently not alone in my love for this album. Of the thirteen reviews on Amazon, every one gives it Five Stars(!).

The consistency of the songwriting is very strong here as well, with surprisingly powerful emotional currents. There’s not a dog in the bunch, and many of the better tracks are gems of popcraft. Some of the my favorites are When I Meet Them, Cause You Love, and Antoinette on side one, and Paper Airplanes, Irish Linen and Springfield Mill on side two.

Side One

Smooth and very rich, with big bass, this is without a doubt precisely the right sound for the album. Very few copies managed to pull off the rich tonal balance that this side has going for it.

Side Two

It’s big and clear, a bit thinner but still very good. (more…)

The Alan Parsons Project / Tales of Mystery & Imagination – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

Alan Parsons’ concept album based on the stories of Edgar Allen Poe was a TAS Super Disc for a while back in the day, and one can easily see why. The sound on the better pressings is big, solid and full-bodied with amazing resolving power and dynamics.

The best copies usually have exceptionally extended top ends. The best top ends are difficult to come by but they sure make a difference in the sound, revealing three-dimensional space that most copies do no better than to hint at. 

The upper harmonics of the instruments are reproduced beautifully here, and there’s ambience and air that are simply not audible on the average original pressing.

This was the first Alan Parsons Project album, and it features songs based on the stories of Edgar Allen Poe. It’s crazy music for sure, certainly not for everyone, but the recording is excellent, as you might expect from the man who engineered Dark Side Of The Moon, Abbey Road and mixed the first Ambrosia album.

The Raven is a highlight, featuring vocoder-enhanced vocals, a boy’s choir, big rock guitars and crazy synthesizers. Click the “AMG Review” tab above to learn more — they do an excellent job communicating what’s interesting about the music on this album. Those of you who like the first Ambrosia album may get a kick out of this one, as all four members participate in the festivities. (more…)

Saint-Saens / Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso / Friedman

  • A nearly White Hot side two with the complete Saint-Saens work
  • Side two has explosive dynamics and near-perfect violin reproduction
  • Side one has the first movement of the Paganini Concerto No. 1
  • A Mohr/Layton Living Stereo Shaded Dog pressing from 1962

Side Two – Paganini – 2nd / 3rd Movements / Saint-Saens – Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso 

A++ to A+++, nearly White Hot. Big and lively, and so involving. Huge space, great dynamics, so immediate and engrossing. 

It’s one of the best sounding violin-led orchestral recordings we have played in recent memory, and we’ve played them by the hundreds and hundreds. (Practice makes perfect as they say.)

Side two of this copy easily puts most of the TAS Super Discs to shame. I would venture to say that there’s a very good chance that you have NEVER heard a violin-led orchestral recording as good as this one (that is, unless you own some of our White Hot Stamper violin records).

Side One – Paganini – Concerto No. 1 – First Movement (more…)

Jefferson Airplane – Crown of Creation

More Jefferson Airplane

Reviews and Commentaries for The Jefferson Airplane

  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two, this copy will be very hard to beat – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • This may actually be their most well recorded album from the ’60s – it’s rich, smooth, sweet, open, natural, and very analog sounding
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more presence and energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying some Heavy Vinyl LP
  • “The album captured the group’s rapidly evolving, very heavy live sound within the confines of some fairly traditional song structures, and left ample room for Slick and Marty Balin to express themselves vocally, with Balin turning in one of his most heartfelt and moving performances…”

This is not an easy album to find good sound for, and finding a copy with this kind of richness and transparency is nearly impossible. If you’re a fan, you’ll be hard pressed to do any better than this one.

We played a pile of these recently, and let me tell you — it is tough sledding finding good sounding copies of this one that play quietly. Of course, it didn’t surprise us too much having been through a number of shootouts for Surrealistic Pillow, but it was frustrating just the same.

The sound of the recording itself varies quite a bit from track to track, with songs like Lather sounding amazing but other tracks not so much. These crazy San Francisco hippies were high as a kite and running around with the Grateful Dead, so I’m guessing that getting audiophile quality sound onto vinyl was pretty far down their list of turn-ons. Still, they managed to produce an album with sonic qualities that should appeal to most audiophiles. (more…)